Part Two - Summoned and Equipped by God: Chapter 6 - Ministry - Transcending Clericalism
Call and Ordination
This final section of Chapter 6 teaches heresy ( at least it would be thought so in many Presbyterian circles *grin*). Stevens argues that there is no “secondary,” “special,” “inner” or “secret” call to “the ministry,” or ecclesial leadership. It is a heresy I happen to agree with.
Stevens quotes the Catholic theologian Edward Schillebeeckx:
…that the modern situation in which a community might not be able t celebrate the eucharist because not priest is present is theologically inconceivable in the early church; the community chooses a president for itself and has hands laid on him so that they can also be a community that celebrates the eucharist … In that case the vitality of the community in terms of the gospel is the deciding factor, not the availability of a body of priestly manpower, crammed full of education in one place or another. (151)
At the transition to second millennium we begin to see the priesthood as something truly and essentially different from the laos of God.
Calvin and Luther struggled with these issues. Calvin posited that there was an “inner” or “secret” call. Always concerned with church order, Calvin was concerned to distinguish between legitimate ministers and those who had merely talked themselves into pursing ministry. However, Luther allowed that the call can come from the church. The community selects individuals to serve on behalf of others.
Stevens shows that the typical “call” to ministry in the New Testament was by one of the apostles calling someone into a position of leadership, or by the community selecting leaders from among themselves. Some ask “What about Paul’s road to Damascus experience?” We must remember that this was Paul’s conversion experience. Yes, he was called into ministry but we are all called to ministry at baptism. Paul was called directly by Christ to fulfill a certain role, as were the other apostles. But there is nothing that suggests that this is the normative way that church leadership happens.
Back in chapter 4, Stevens wrote about four types of call relating to our vocation: effectual, providential, charismatic and heart. For church leadership, Stevens suggests there is a fifth call: ecclesiastical call. While this does not preclude a special existential call, Stevens suggests that the normative call is the body of believers discerning the persons suitability for church leadership based on gifting and character. Stevens writes that:
By and large we have missed the main thrust of the New Testament and reverted to a pre-Christian view of clergy and laity: a general call to the people and a special call to a few. (155)
So what about ordination? (Hold on to your seats Presbyterians.)
Theologically and practically, commissioning to such leadership is important since, as we have seen, a Christian servant working in the church needs an ecclesial ‘call’. …But there is nothing in the Bible like a hierarchical patter of ordination, ordination for life, or ordination as a sacrament that conveys grace, ordination for life, or ordination as a sacrament that conveys grace, ordination that leaves an indelible mark on the ordained and gives the priest the exclusive right to celebrate the eucharist. There is also nothing like ordination as practiced by Protestants which gives exclusive right of the ordained, especially those of the Calvinist tradition, to preach the Word and minister the sacraments (Institutes, IV.3.8) (156-157)
In defense of Presbyterians (and it is a weak one), the relegation of the preaching and sacraments to a minister is not so much theological as practical. With a high value on order, it is believed that the proper preaching of the Word and administration of the sacraments well best ensure handled this way. In practice, I suspect a great many Presbyterians see the pastor as a special class of Christian distinct from the laos of God. The line is very murky between pastors as a special caste and pastors as one of the community.
Stevens suggests that the way forward requires us to ask four questions:
First, what is ministry? It is putting ourselves at the disposal of God for God’s purposes in the church and world. Ministry is from God, to God and of God.
Second, who are the ministers? The whole people of God as community is God’s true ministerium in both its gathered life (ekklesia) and dispersed life (diaspora).
Third, how is ministry undertaken? What form does it take? It is in both word and deed, both overtly and covertly, to persons and to organizations, both directly and indirectly.
Fourth, where is ministry undertaken? Service from God and for God takes place in both the church and the world. (157-158)
Stevens closes Chapter 6, the final chapter of Part II, with this quote from Thomas Gillespie, past president of Princeton Seminary (and fellow General Assembly Council member.) Concerning what must happen for recovery of the ministry of the whole people of God, Gillespie writes:
It will be realized only if the ‘nonclergy’ are willing to move up, if the ‘clergy’ are willing to move over, and if all God’s people are willing to move out. For the ministry of the community is rendered first and foremost in the world and for the world. It is performed in the daily lives of its people, in their participation and involvement in the structures of a complex society, in their sacrificial obedience in ‘worldly affairs,’ in their mission to reclaim the world for the God who claims the world in love. (158)